The Departure Lounge

The Departure Lounge

I don’t see any planes. It’s funny, that. Every minute more people come through the doors marked ‘arrivals’, but the sun glares so fiercely on the windows that you can’t see how they got here. By screwing up my eyes I can just make out a patch of blue sky among all the endless white; but then, it could be my mind playing tricks on me. From a different spot on the concourse it looks almost grey. Maybe it’s snowing outside. Perhaps we’re snowed in, and the entire place is a giant airport-shaped igloo.

The airport’s boiling, as well. If the blinding white wasn’t already enough, the seemingly thousands of people wandering around in their business suits, kaftans and summer dresses aren’t helping. I’m one of them, of course. No idea where I’ve come from and none of where I’m going to. Above all the noise the tannoy system drones unintelligibly about arrivals and numbers and occasionally calling people by name to the arrivals desk. There’s nothing being said about departures, though. There’s probably been another volcano blowing its top in Iceland or another terrorist attack somewhere in America. It would explain why this place is so packed.

Surprisingly enough all the seats are taken, and a short wander around tells me all the duty free shops are closed. I never did wear a watch so god knows what time it is. There seem to be two types of people here; the type who push past with frowns on their faces and intent in their eyes and the ones who sit around in small mismatched clumps; like children on a school trip; vacant faces waiting for their teacher to finish sorting out the passports and tickets. Since I’m not sat down, I let myself be dragged along in the current, away from arrivals. I become aware of a mechanical noise which, as I approach, evolves into a cacophonous methodical thunk in the air.

There’s a huge crowd around the baggage carousel, even more than there was in the main hall. Hundreds upon hundreds of people packed into a relatively small space, all jostling and fighting to get closer to the moving belt. Nearby, two men start fighting, like tigers tearing each others’ skin clean off. No one else seems to notice though, or maybe they don’t care; parting and passing over the struggling figures as irresistable as the sea. Forcing myself to the wall, I gradually push my way past until the crowd becomes calmer and the carousel, into sight.

The calmness of the crowd at the epicentre is soon explained. Though the machinery rotates on and on, no luggage comes through the curtains. The people nearest stare at the fluttering plastic with expressions of such longing, impatience and silent worry that it is if they wait for their very heart’s desires to shudder through into the light. They come forward and stay by the machine as long as they can, until the tide turns and they fade back into the unforgiving crowd.

I too am eventually tugged backwards and some disorientating minutes later, find myself walking purposefully down a corridor away from the tumultuous mass. The passage twists and turns and lo! Like a beacon of heavenly light shines the lurid green EXIT sign. Following the signs blindly I emerge into what could only be the departure lounge, and the gates into freedom. The people around me surge forward, looks of ecstasy on their faces and arms outstretched, like extras in a cheap chick flick that went straight to video. A small smile escapes me but is then replaced by surprise as a pair of strong arms pull me straight through the gates and towards the doors, refusing to let me go.

Instinctively I pull backwards, remembering my forgotten luggage. An all-too familiar voice says, “We’ll deal with that later,” and I’m firmly forced forwards by even more arms, still wrapped in the bear hug. There’s a halt, and a queue, and a line of people being security checked and passing through the doors into the sun, and they depart into the haze, laughing like old friends. Then it is our turn and our passes are checked. The security guard looks at me and tells me I have no pass and must step aside. Reluctantly the arms release me. It’s only then that I saw my father and my grandfather walking away from me, in the seconds before the door closed. Before the light was shut out and my eyes opened.

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